No matter how a book is ultimately brought in front of readers, its success all comes back to the writing. I love books on the craft of writing by pretty much anyone, but those that I’ve found most helpful are by writers whose work I envy. Perhaps not surprisingly, these all tend to be short books that distill decades of expertise into a couple hundred pages.
Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury: This is a collection of essays originally published in the 70s and 80s. It’s as much stories about a life in writing, as it is writing advice. I love the image of Bradbury on his lawn with his typewriter in 1942, when he was in his early 20s, crying with the realization that he had just finished his first really good story. His most memorable advice is that writing is akin to acting like a small lizard in the desert, run fast, stand still. Don’t edit so much when rough drafting, just get it down and then come back and fix things later.
Steering the Craft by Ursula K. LeGuin: This book is more about the nuts and bolts of writing than the others on this list, a good intro for those new to the craft or a refresher for those more experienced by one of the world’s most talented wordsmiths. Her advice that’s done me the most value is that to read passages aloud, even though it made me feel a tad self-conscious at first. If you trip up reading your own words, the reader coming at them for the first time will stumble right out of the book.
Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction by Patricia Highsmith: While the title implies this is just about suspense fiction, it applies equally well to all stories aimed at pulling the reader in and keeping the pages turning. She details how to take an idea, and build it out into a full-fledged story with numerous examples from her own work. Though perhaps most helfplul is her advice that the first person a writer should try to please is yourself. The rest of the world will come later.
On Writing by Stephen King: This one seems to make every writer’s list, and with good reason. What I remember most about it is the image of his wife wheeling his typewriter in front of him while King was in bed recovering from injuries after his infamous run-in with a van. Every writer needs someone like this, a partner to kick you back into the writing even if you’ve been literally run over by a bus. King goes on to detail how his writing became a key part of his convalescence.
There’s a bookcase more of writing books that I’ve collected, but these are the four most worth mentioning. If you know of any other noteworthy tomes on the writing craft by its maestros, I’d love to hear about them.